Local Authorities (Elections) (Amendment) Bill3650 07 Feb, 2013
Dr. Ramayya: This afternoon I have the privilege to indicate to this House how urgent the need is for the Local Government Elections. I listened so well to Mr. Whittaker, how well he articulated the Constitution, but it is amazing that in four elections, in 1997, 2001, 2006 an 2011, to this date we cannot formulate an agreement to carry through with the Local Government Elections. I have seen so many blames were been shifted to the Opposition for the defaults and the question here can be answered very clearly. The Government Members asserted power to so many years, but yet there is the delayed in Local Government Elections because they are losing grounds in their constituents.
I can recall the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, in the late 1980s, when he went to the new school of social research, in the auditorium, and he indicated to the Guyanese people there that for twenty-eight years the People’s National Congress (PNC) refused to give the Guyanese people a chance within their communities on how to run that area of theirs. Today, by the same token, the PPP is doing the same as the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan talked about. That audience, in which I am still in contact with, questioned the integrity of this current Government to carry through with the Local Government Elections. Mr. Whittaker has indicated in Corriverton that the IMC was doing a job with the consultation of the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils. I want to ask Mr. Whittaker: Why was a big publication given by Mr. Baignauth in that area about his position about him being the Chairman? He was chased out, so to speak, by the IMC.
The PPP is not accountable by the very words of the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan. The communities are not finding favours with the IMC, at this stage, because they are still reflecting and the new dispensation on the 28th of November, 2011. This is one of the weaknesses of the Government not to hold a Local Government Election because defeat is inevitable. This new dispensation today has proved that discontentment of our people and it is very important that, listening to the other side of the House, or the outreach, to win the support of the thirteen thousand voters in Berbice, it seems, today, that there will be a greater defeat in Local Government Elections. This signal doubts in my mind that whether or not this Government is ready or prepared for Local Government Elections. I ask a simple question, if Mr. Ganga Persaud is ready for a Local Government Election, then why, in four elections, that there was not a committee set up to have a Local Government Election in this country for the people of the benefits?
In our country today the Local Government is one of the strongest arm, in any country, and we must practise what we preach. It is very important for us to practise what we preach. If the Government, with the same vision and determination, as I can cite it, speaks on other issues, I cannot see the evidence that it can carry through a Local Government Elections for the people of this country. The Government Members spoke vibrantly about other things and I have listened to them in many ways but to come to an agreement to formulate the laws that govern Local Government Elections, there is no consensus at this point. I will tell you, Mr. Speaker, that with the Local Government Elections, we must, in all aspect, determine that should be carried through which will benefit this nation.
I want to cite from Mr. Andrew, from the High Commission of the United Kingdom, Mr. Brent Hart, the Ambassador of the United States of America, David Devine from Canada and Mr. Robert Copley, Ambassador for the European Union and these are the exact words:
“During Guyana 2011 National Elections on the issue on which all political parties were in full agreement was the need to hold Local Government Elections. As we celebrate the arrival of the New Year all three of the Guyana major political parties continue to publicly affirm their commitment to hold Local Government Elections.
Given the importance and pressing need for effective local governance, we believe that 2013 should be a watershed moment for the Guyanese people- the year when they can once again democratically elect the local government. The tangible benefits of local democracy go far beyond the act of casting a vote. Throughout the world, countries and international agencies have come to recognise the vital importance of representative local government; effective and efficient public administration coupled with healthy local governance can drive development efforts. Local government institutions bring Government closer to the people, fostering greater inclusion, civic responsibility, empowerment and participation. In fact, local government offers one of the most important avenues for women and other groups typically under-represented to participate in the development of the communities and influence decision making processes that directly affect their lives.
In communities throughout the world, a new generation of democratically elected local leaders is creating change and sparking new national development. Unfortunately, Guyana has not held Local Government Elections since 1994 and this should be a shame on our nation. Although today we have the majority on this side of the House, yet for four consecutive elections they were not able to give the people of Guyana a local government election. The institution and practices of local governance have withered on the vine since that time, so we have declined tremendously from the development of this country. While the people of Guyana are familiar with the reason offered for repeated delays, I want to ask the Government whether or not it is the Opposition for the past 15 years that has delayed the process of a local government election. I want to ask the question, when they are in power for 15 years after 1994, why we have not been given a chance locally to express our democratic rights?
The key legislative foundations of local government reform have been tabled in the National Assembly and are now before a select committee. While there may be differences between the parties over the role and authority of the Minister of Local Government and over the control of scope of fiscal transfers, these issues should be resolved as a matter of urgency among all parties in select committee. Why was it not resolved? It is because the Government wants their way but has no respect for the Opposition as far as I am concerned.
The principle that should guide the Committee and the Assembly in reviewing local government reform legislation has been amply articulated in a host of national and international assessments. Guyana National Development Strategy of 2000 developed with the support of the Carter Centre called for a local government system with greatly increased authority with the power to formulate their own development - development plans and strategies for the legal right within clearly specified boundaries to enact local laws and to collect specified rates and taxes as approved by the Central Government. Moreover, all three parties have articulated their principles and commitment to this end, around which there is clear agreement.
In its 2011 manifesto, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) called for reinvigorating local government and pledged to ensure within one year of 2011 General Elections that the Local Government Elections will be held and this is 2013. Since 2011 they went to the people telling them, “Yes, we will have local government elections”, but this is 2013 and no agreement is met at this stage for Local Government Elections to be held. A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) likewise called for the implementation of agreed local government reform and the holding of Local Government Elections. The Alliance For Change (AFC) affirms that it is the first year in office in which it would implement local government reform and have the Local Government Elections in a political environment in which the people of Guyana and the leading civic voices such as the Chamber of Commerce call for greater national unity and cooperation. This consensus for local government reform and elections is a vital opportunity for all parties to work together in 2013 in the national interest.
While Guyana has made great strides in strengthening its democracy, the continued absence of democratically elected and effective local government remains a persistent drag on Guyana’s national development and its attractiveness as an investment destination. Only when people have transparent and accountable institutions at all levels of government - national, regional and local - will they have confidence in the future. In 2013, it is time for Guyana to seize its opportunity/potential by affording citizens’ strong and effective local governance to build safer, more prosperous and more democratic communities. Listening to what other people have to say about the importance of Local Government Elections, we should stop the rhetoric that has been preached here and do the work we were placed here to do for the people of Guyana. Those who have been given the mandate and the resolution they made for the people of Guyana, should continue with that commitment.
As I sit as one of the Members in the Special Select Committee on Local Government, I do not find a solution in that Committee, because if the Government does not get their way then it will not be functional. Because of that we must stop because the IMC which is handpicked, without the people’s knowledge, to represent their own political interests, is not at work. As one of the speakers on this side said, the members in the NDC were not properly represented. I will tell you for a fact that I had in 1994 one third of the seats in that NDC, but I was never consulted about the IMC when it was formed. That is an insult to the people in my community. In the last election in 2011, I promised the people and that promise was kept and because of that promise, the PPP/C lost in Whim and they will lose in the county of Berbice. So we must stop this local government hypocrisy and must continue to work for the people of Guyana. I urge this House that we urgently need and should not allow 2013 to pass without the Local Government Elections.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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